When attempting to steer the public toward embracing more sustainable consumption practices and carbon-reducing energy options, proponents need to make sure they incorporate a solid dose of reality into their dream for a better world.
First and foremost, there should be recognition that the vast majority of citizens want to do the right thing. Given the opportunity and sufficient persuasion, most folks will sacrifice some measure of personal convenience for the benefit of the greater good.
The challenge is to develop strategies that take that human behavior virtue into account.
One impulse sure to backfire is impatience. When a push to change how people live becomes a shove, increased resistance to change must be expected. Inevitably, results based on changes of habit take even longer to achieve.
A case in point is the proposal to switch Bar Harbor solid waste disposal to a pay-to-throw system. The metaphorical stick was trotted out long before the town had exhausted every carrot. Officials have not explored a sufficient range of options to encourage new behaviors, such as improvements in the town’s recycling program or promoting the composting of food waste.
Bar Harbor recycling rates have stagnated, a victim of the common knowledge that when markets sag, items routinely separated are fed back into the waste stream. Why bother rinsing, cleaning and sorting out items that only will end up in the common burn pile?
Rather than commit to for-profit companies that offer boilerplate solutions designed to enhance their bottom lines, why not put the same amount of local energy and financial resolve into creating programs that make it easier, and more satisfying, to do the right thing?
Ultimately, the goal isn’t just to mandate “green” behavior at any cost. For a truly sustainable future, the goal should be to create a fully-functioning system, the foundation of which must be an informed, motivated and energized citizenry.